Editor's note: Izakayas are down-to-earth drinking joints in Japan that also serve food—as in, more than just snacks. They've become more and more prominent in the New York City landscape, and nobody here at Serious Eats knows them better than our izakaya bureau chief, Tam Ngo. She first brought us a report on Riki, and she's back with her second izakaya review.
Thanks to Serious Eater Michele Humes' recommendation, we set out to sample izakaya Ariyoshi's more unusual offerings. We sampled bellwether standards like fried chicken and chicken meatballs but ate particularly well from Ariyoshi's specials menu.
Though the menu was written in kanji, our waiter helpfully and haltingly guided us through it. By happy accident, we ordered what was described as cod roe milt. This, dear reader, is how we introduce deep-fried spunk, spooge, or man-juice to the Serious Eats vernacular.
Milt, known also as kiku, tachi, or shirako are the sacs and seminal fluid of water-dwellers. Most commonly harvested from cod, anglerfish, and fugu in winter months, shirako is a seasonal izakaya delicacy. At Ariyoshi, shirako is served as tempura accompanied by ponzu sauce.
Inside the tempura crust, the milt sacs are shaped like soft brain grooves with the silken texture of whipped custard. Imagine the world's fluffiest sweetbread. But unlike the flavor of land-based offal, the taste of shirako is more mild, more sweet, than earthy.
Other notable dishes include ankimo (monkfish liver pate). Ariyoshi steams its ankimo and serves it sliced, accompanied by lemon, wakame seaweed, momiji oroshi (grated daikon with chili), and ponzu sauce. We enjoyed the chef's preparation which highlighted the dish's clean taste, but all told, we prefer Soba Totto's grilled version. (Caramelization seems a better complement to the liver's light funk.)
The grilled yaki ika had good snap. Paired with a sweet teriyaki sauce though, the dish only managed to dull the appetite.
Though the fried chicken of the tori-kara oroshi ponzu had decent crust, we pined for a juicier meat interior.
Pro forma takoyaki. The balls lacked proper crisp and browning.
At this point, my companion and I were gut-stuffed and feeling doleful. But true to the nature of an izakaya, the chef sensed our deep-fry-fatigue and sent out a dish of thin, pickled daikon to revive us. It worked! Onward we marched, through the tori dango.
The tori dango didn't have the
char sweet taste of cancer of Torys or Soba Totto's tsukune. But since Ariyoshi lacks a robata grill, it's silly of me to compare its stick-meats to izakayas specializing in yakitori.
Valuable lessons were learned at Ariyoshi. As most izakayas have a specials menu, fie to those diners who dare to stray. All in all, we enjoyed the hours whiled away at Ariyoshi. We felt at ease, cared for, and well-attended to. With Ariyoshi's modest prices and utter lack of pretension, this izakaya has earned its quiet cult following.
226 East 53rd Street, New York NY 10022 (b/n 2nd and 3rd Avenue; map)